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Lionsgate           107 minutes      PG-13

You might be surprised by this one. Deepwater Horizon is not your effects-driven, true life disaster movie. What sets this one apart? Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) gets us to care about the characters whose lives are about to be put in dire straits.

Mark Wahlberg is Mike Wiliams, the chief electrician. The story introduces us to him through his relationship with wife Felicia (Kate Hudson). The same goes for our introduction to Gina Rodriguez’s character, the rig’s dynamic positioning officer Andrea Fleytas. We get to know enough about her to care whether she makes it off the rig when all Hell breaks loose.

The real drama is not just the fire, oil and explosions, but the actual fight to get these men and women off the rig alive. The life and death decisions made by Mike Williams and Jimmy Harrell (Mr. Jimmy) reverberate with us because we care. When Williams tells Andrea, “I AM going to see my wife and daughter again!”, we want to believe him, but looking at the circumstances it hardly seems possible. They’re at the top of the stricken crumbling rig. Berg brings the real life conclusions to the stories we’re following on the Deepwater Horizon. He shows us the actual people depicted; Who lived, who died and who was punished…or not.

Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) along with writers Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand manage to pepper in family love, corporate villainy, and a bit of environmentalism into this $156 million action film. We re-live April 20, 2010 and the horror when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. It exploded 41 miles off the Louisiana coast taking 11 lives and causing the largest oil spy in U.S. history.

Peter Berg, Cinematographer Enrique Chediak (127 Hours) and the special effects team effectively build tension towards the blowout of the pipe leading to the explosion. The camera takes us under the sea following the pipe all the way down to the ocean floor where we see the first bubble gently escape. This helps us understand the immense scale of the drilling operation and also the tremendous forces about to be unleashed on the unsuspecting crew above.

When the dials on the control room indicators push into the red and the  aging rig is enveloped in fire and mud things kick into over drive. This spectacle on a grand scale. Everything from flying bodies and walls of fire chasing our heroes down the hall to oil soaked sea birds crashing onto ships decks. The metaphor of Judgement Day for a dying ecosystem.

Kurt Russell is “Mr. Jimmy”, the workers’ boss and the conscience that the BP lackeys should have listened to before pressing him to continue drilling operations. Interspersed with the action is this morality play pitting the lives of innocent workers and wildlife against the corporate greed of BP which wanted to re-coup lost time and money. The Deepwater Horizon was 43 days late and $53 million over budget looking for oil. John Malkovich plays the sneering BP executive Don Vidrine with a head-scratching cartoon Cajun accent. His scenes might be almost comical if the outcomes were not so outrageously costly and deadly.

We really were surprised by this film. It’s thrilling, entertaining and thought provoking which are not the usual elements for a one dimensional disaster-action piece. With each camera re-visit to the bottom of the ocean the eruptions gain intensity and knuckles on arm rests get whiter. The folks at BP probably don’t want you to see this movie. But we think you should dive in for this one.